I Dream of Sheep

The BeeHolder, Spring2014

One only has to take a short drive through Wales to notice, in the fields and hills, a profusion of different breeds of sheep. The reason is obvious, each breed is adapted to the local environment. 70 years ago there was an even greater diversity, almost every valley would have a distinct type of sheep; mixtures, mongrels if you like, that were especially suited to the environment of one specific area. Severn Trent Water used to breed salmon, trout and crayfish and dump the same batch in each of the feeder streams. Now it breeds Trannon trout, Mule trout and Vyrnwy trout and releases each only into the parent stream. It has determined that each is distinct genetic type and we recognise, almost instinctively, that putting fish back into their original rivers “must be right”. Yet how come so many beekeepers fail to recognise that bees are similarly adapted to very specific environmental parameters? We know of an old beekeeper with many years of successful beekeeping and obtain a colony from him or her and then often we wonder why the bees behave differently in our own apiary. We even import bees from dealers who offer “Local” bees which are merely last year’s locally hatched workers with a mated queen imported from Greece, Spain or Slovenia. These bees work well around the Mediterranean or Central Europe but which are ill-adapted to life in Wales.

I hope you all have noticed that a recurring theme in the BeeHolder and at meetings is the need to take great care in the sourcing of bees. Most Beekeeping Associations in Wales are now also campaigning for locally bred bees. We all realise many disappointments with bees are due to having inappropriate stock. I would love to see regulations that would stop exotic queens being imported into the UK. It is not going to happen; the commercial beekeepers would lobby against such an idea. What legislators fail to appreciate is that the genes of the exotic imports, Apis mellifera ligustica and Apis melifera carnica, are constantly polluting the bee-stock of hobbyist beekeepers. There are many stories told of experienced and diligent beekeepers finding their stock suddenly becoming irritable, and dying out in an average wet Welsh winter. The beekeeper cannot stop his queens mating with exotic drones. The sheep farmer can be sued if his ram pollutes a neighbouring flock with his genes. It is easy to pen a ram; impossible to restrict the flight of a drone.

So, you’ll be saying, where can I get suitable stock? We would like to be able to supply everyone from the breeding program at the apiary, but until we can we will continue to source quality nucs from reliable breeders on behalf of our members.

LC Cheshire